Experiences The Chef


The first week of April was kind of slow. I think everyone was just happy the weather let up and spent their time outdoors. But then The New York Times published a piece on new wine bars, and Pata Negra was mentioned among Terroir, Gottino, Xai Xai and others. All of the sudden people who never spend their time in the East Village were coming out of the woodworks. Boy was I busy!

It was great and tiring and whirly at all the same time. I ran out of food and wine and had to make several trips to replenish wares personally. Customers were eager with questions, and it was a pleasure to have such a diverse crowd at my place. My only complaint was that many people were pulling the fat off my ham, and I had to chastise a few. This particular fat is laced with great omega-3’s, and actually lowers your bad cholesterol and raises your good cholesterol. Some gave it the old college try, while others wanted me to pull out The New England Journal of Medicine report.

One Saturday I averted a near disaster. I ran out of soap for the washing machine. My kitchen guy (Andres) got arrested the night before, and there was no bread delivery. I had to go into the kitchen, plead for emergency bread, and borrow soap from Hearth (Chef Jordan was most kind). Finally around eight pm, Andres strolls in and order is restored. He got picked up for sleeping on the train with no I.D., or at least that’s his side of the story.

Pata Negra (the butt cut) has been selling out frequently, and I have been changing the wine list according to the weather. I feel bad sometimes that my regulars can’t get in, but that’s the nature of the business.

AC has been installed, but it is just not quite that hot yet. April has been the best month to date, and I’m ready for a transition to warmer climate and attitude.

Chapter 4

Things at La Nacional are going good as I start to develop some good client relationships. But I am still eager for my own venture, partner or no partner. There is a lot of back and forth with the seller and a lot of back and forth with attorneys. Things don’t seem right as every day gets more tense. But Lolo and I do the most important thing – we put money into a joint business account. Things sure seemed real. But then there was a long delay from the landlord. No one was offering any info. Then finally I found out that the building was being sold. The rent was being raised and on top of it all, I found the reason for all the desperation. The seller was being evicted. He told me he had solid counter offers, and I old him fine. He called back a couple of hours later to tell me that I would never, ever have that store, no matter what. A threat, but an empty one.

This information was kept from me, and I used it to drive the price way down. I still remember his threats, “You don’t know who you are f!#$@$#% with! I am Turkish. You don’t know the Turks!” Apparently this particular Turk just couldn’t pay his bills and get away with his lies. The deal was officially off, and I was sad because I felt the harder hurdles were already cleared.

Then in December, the suave, no nonsense Brazilian guy from across the street came to us and said that the problem with the lease on seventh avenue had been resolved, and if we were still interested, a 50/50 partnership was still on the table. We asked for a copy of the amendment, shook hands, and excitedly rushed o the new space 113 seventh avenue south – heart of the West Village – landmark and ready. The dream would continue here, and I was ready to work my butt off to get it to work.

Our partner wanted to do Brazilian food, but we convinced him to do Spanish tapas, not because the tapas trend was hot, but because it was our forte. As our attorneys worked on the details of the deal, we went over to the new space, just a stone’s throw from La Nacional.

The space was an existing ground floor restaurant with no basement, on the east side of the street next to the Duplex with potential outdoor seating. The kitchen was used and built, the old fashioned wooden bar existing, and a small second floor storeroom for food and supplies. Two bathrooms, wood floors, a low ceiling and windowed doors rounded out the rest of the general features. The place looked very nondescript. Yes it was functional, but boy did it need a makeover.

That was a priority along with staff, menu, wine list, concept, and a name. Many names were thrown around. I suggested Ostia, a name which I had heard every Spaniard use at one point or another in common parlance. Lolo resisted (it’s the equivalent of calling a restaurant the word f@#$%!), but I thought the play on words would be well-received. Ostia means the host in Mass ceremony. It can be used as a curse word, and also as a word meaning heavenly. It would surely stop Spaniards dead in their tracks, and some Italians too (Ostia-Antica is a seaside town outside of Rome). Lolo checked with his Spanish friends, and it was overwhelmingly approved. Now for the hard work, opening a restaurant in two weeks for New Year’s eve.

By Chef Mateo

Just a man in pursuit of all things delicious. Eat and Drink life!